Rating: Mild sexual implications and themes. These people are grown-ups, after all.
She dreams of a storm.
The iconic past remains immutable: red dust, one entrance and two stone guardians marking the space between them and the past with quiet constancy. Then there is the sudden spark of life; sulphuric fel darkness springs forth, and the past becomes the present. The conduit stabilises in a swirl of dust and air and earth: space and presence both familiar and frightening. The rock watchers challenge her to respond, yet she will not yield. Instead comes the acceptance of approaching terror, a future that cannot be ignored, and her past that has set in motion a destiny that will not be dismissed. She stands at the future’s threshold, in the armour she had buried away, refusing to yield to what she knows lie beyond: defying her demons to strike her down, knowing they will fail.
The carmine silk detaches from her hat and is sucked into the vortex and suddenly she can taste blood in her mouth, the warping of primal magiks and the sickening realisation that time itself is changing around her. Softening and stretching, damp tendrils of expectation reach out from somewhere else, beyond this moment, seducing her with possibility.
This is not the same as it was before.
Green inexorably mutates to red.
Something is horribly, sickeningly wrong.
When she wakes, even the arms around her are not enough to quieten her fears.
‘This will be the third night in a row you’ve had a nightmare?
Crais should be tired but he’s surprisingly alert, driven by a beat he cannot yet grasp. He’s far too awake as a result in the early morning of Stormwind, another glorious Spring day in prospect. He stands at the balcony window, watching his partner stare across the farmland, and discomfort again rises at their situation, unwillingly accompanied by the familiar rhythm stuck in his head. SI7’s Guest Quarters are far roomier than he remembers and the fact they’re allowed here together is remarkable in itself. He’s beginning to wonder if they should go back to the Loch, whether P is actually as ready as she’s admitted.
‘Aye. The last two times I’d assumed you were asleep.’
‘I don’t rest well when I know you’re in pain. Never have.’
The assertion is more for his benefit than hers: he’s the one craving physical connection but isn’t sure how to broach it. Instead he remains static, a world away in a few short steps. The last thing they had spoken of before she drifted off to sleep was the past: her husband, the Dwarven phantom who had shaken his confidence. Maybe she’s not the only one who required more time to recover.
‘When I married I assumed it would be for life. I never stopped loving him, not for one day, but you know I’m a realist. He remains in my heart in songs and tales, but he does not breathe next to me. You have nothing to fear from a ghost.’
Crais can’t believe the words, not so soon after waking. Her husband’s death in the Black Temple is never far away, and he knows he’ll never replace this hero. This is the moment for him to remain like stone; strength in the face of her fear, and his own inadequacy.
It isn’t just a Master Hammersmith making him doubt himself, however, Crais grasps he is being manipulated by other forces, far more subtle and undefinable. The Sha had exposed the weaknesses of them all, in disparate ways. He’d spoken to an Si7 healer the previous day, who had confided in him that this Campaign had caused far more doubts in the minds of their troops than any other that had preceded it. If there were ever a moment for the enemy to exploit a weakness, then this was it.
At this moment, the Horde was the least of their worries.
The pattern of drums in his head refuses to go away. He needs to remember when he heard it last, to identify the source…
‘Crais, what’s wrong?’
The desire to translate what he’s hearing in his mind into a solid memory blocks his ability to immediately respond. Now it is P’s turn to misunderstand the significance of a moment.
‘I’m not the only one who’s struggling, am I?’
When P reaches out he tries to elucidate but falters, is inexplicably unable to maintain his composure, and it must be obvious because she almost runs to him, head to his chest and arms around his waist with an embrace that breaks his resolve, and he is crying without actually understanding why. The tears are real, there is relief yet no understanding at their meaning, and as P pulls away from him to look up into his eyes, he understands immediately what woke her. Fear vanishes and Crais is staggered by the sensation of utter calm that descends between them.
This isn’t about what happened when they fell asleep, not her husband’s legacy at all. This is something else, a shared fragment of a connected unconsciousness. He sees her, not here but at the place he stood… red dust, one entrance and two stone guardians marking the space between them…
They are more attached to each other than even he had grasped.
‘Now I understand this isn’t about your late husband at all.’
P’s eyes widen and she is shaking her head, disbelief at his words. He lets the kiss she begins become a joint method to assuage what he knows isn’t just his disquiet any more, and they both indulge far longer than they might normally, especially when under the roof of his paymasters. This is as close as he will ever come to staying with his mother, and normally that would mean restraint in all things, simply out of respect. As he briefly succumbs to the sensation, the sound recedes, but its colour remains: residual image inside his eyelids, a constant reminder. Three nights now. The colour of blood, and her body as a shield when Garrosh tried to kill him. The warning that rang in this mind when Hellscream was taken away. The familiar changing, a warning to all of Azeroth.
It’s not just him. She was there too.
‘You were standing at the Dark Portal.’
The entire landscape shifts in a breath, P backing away from him, amazement and concern all too obvious at his statement. She stands and stares, mouth open, and immediately the drums return, constant rhythm in Crais’ subconscious, a memory from Nagrand.
His past. Their future.
The Orcs preparing for battle.
‘It sucks my old armour away and into the Nether.’
Crais is suddenly aware that circumstance is beyond his control, absolutely nothing he can do to prevent the inevitable. The die has already been cast. Like it or not, he knows they’re travelling to the Blasted Lands as soon as the sun rises. The colour compels him, draws him, and he knows whatever manipulates his mind understands his weaknesses. He can never resist this woman in carmine. The stuff of seduction and promise; salt-taste, adrenaline heightened. Irresistible.
‘Then the whole thing turns red.’
His lover stands, aghast, and with her words their destiny is determined.
‘We’re having the same dream.’